Tuesday, April 26, 2011

AFI Top 100 Countdown #93: THE FRENCH CONNECTION


Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Ernest Tidyman
Starring: Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

*Rottentomatoes.com rating of 98%

*"This 1971 thriller about a heroin bust is solid, slick filmmaking, full of dirty cops, shrewd operators, and slam-bang action." -Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

*"Puts the majority of contemporary action movies to shame." -Blake French, filmcritic.com

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

*Academy: Won Best Actor, Director, Film Editing, Picture, Adapted Screenplay.  Nominated for Actor in a Supporting Role, Sound and Cinematography.

*Golden Globes: Won Best Actor, Director, and Picture.  Nominated for Screenplay.

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.


$1,800,000 (estimated)

$51,700,000 (USA)

$26,315,000 (USA)

Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.

*The car chase is considered one of the greatest action pieces ever filmed.

*First rated 'R' movie to win Best Picture since the introduction of the MPAA rating system.

Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

*In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

JaviWhen it comes to movies from the AFI Top 100 countdown, I knew that this would happen, and it will continue happen.  By that, I mean seeing movies that had historical value but have nothing in the way of story.  THE FRENCH CONNECTION is one of them.  What’s funny is that I am actually a fan of cop movies and procedural films.  But this story of a grizzled cop Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle trying to save his career by making discovering a huge drug ring perpetrated by a French diplomat has so little that kept my interests despite the style and ever-famous chase sequence.

I guess this movie, more than any that I have seen so far in this countdown, seems more like archetypes and not characters.  You have the relaxed partner, uptight chief,  asshole fellow detective, yet all of these characters have been portrayed better in other movies.  If it wasn’t such sacrilege, I’d say that it was better done in HOT FUZZ.

To say that this movie has value in terms of AFI is true.  This was highly influential in the style of film making of the 70’s, and it changed the way that cops movies were done forever to a more gritty style and more realistic portrayal of cops.  And you can’t deny Gene Hackman’s acting prowess and intensity. Everything else about the movie feels like a blur though. I did particularly enjoy the conspiracy aspect of the movie with the diplomat. Regardless of how awesome the car chase scene is in at the climax of the movie, it doesn’t make up for how boring the rest of the movie is.

I know it sounds ridiculous for me to dismiss this movie as boring.  I understand that the movie was cutting edge for its portrayal of New York.  The biggest thing that I have learned about myself in this countdown is that I appreciate good writing and a compelling story. What I can’t forgive are older movies that hold very little interest to me.  No, I’m not some young whipper snapper that needs his Mountain Dew and Transformers movies to get through the day, but if the story and the characters don’t hold up for me, I can’t get into the movie. And this movie just has not aged properly. 

Jonesy: The French Connection is the classic heist thriller. Almost all heist movies (and some television series) have been inspired by this movie. It follows two cops, “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider), as they try to stop a narcotics ring that spans from France to New York.

This is the first movie in the countdown that felt absolutely real to me. The grittiness of the setting, raw performance of Gene Hackman coupled with the grim and dreary mood made me feel I was almost in the streets of New York. The greatest cinematic accomplishment was the famous car chase scene which has been regarded as on the best ever captured on film. Hackman weaves the car in and out the backstreets of New York while chasing the drug dealer, who by the way is on an elevated train…a train! The use of the point-of-view technique from inside the car and the front bumper immerses you inside the action. Easily the most memorable part of the film.

Overall, THE FRENCH CONNECTION makes the mark in the heist/cop genre. The performance by Hackman as the manic and driven Popeye carries the movie. However, it’s not one I feel I ever have to visit again. Knowing this is one of the best in its genre, I can safely say I don’t particularly care for heist movies.

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